Amid a chorus of world condemnation, Israel is defiantly justifying its June 7 raid on the Iraqi nuclear complex outside Baghdad. In sonorous tones Prime Minister Menachem Begin told a packed press conference June 9 that "despite all the condemnations heaped on Israel in th last 24 hours, Israel has nothing to apologize for." He said that he had to take this action to ensure that his people would not be destroyed.
Israel appears to be mounting a massive information campaign to convince the world that its decision was not only right, but a benefit to other countries. Mr. Begin told his audience, "I hope in the days to come, all men and women of goodwill will understand our motives."
He repeated that Israel had no choice but to strike now, before the reactor became operational in one-to-three months, when it would have exposed Baghdad to heavy radiation if hit.
This claim was upheld by Swiss nuclear expert Theodore Winkler of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, who was interviewed repeatedly on Israeli radio and on the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr. Begin said Israel "faced a terrible dilemma" about whether to act now against the reactor, but decided to move before it was too late. He said the mission, which sources here say was planned as early as last october, had been postponed several times.
Mr. Begin implied that sould Iraq rebuild its reactor, Israel would hit it again. He said that Israel would not permit "any enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against the people of Israel."
However, Maj. Gen. David Ivri, chief of the Israeli Air Force, said at the press conference that it was impossible to compare the Iraqi operation with a hypothetical strike against Syrian missiles in Lebanon.
Within Israel there was agreement across the political spectrum that Israel could not permit atom bombs to fall into the hands of Arab enemies. There was also quiet exhilaration among the public at Israel's successful execution of a complicated mission. This pride was reflected by General Ivri when he said that the mission had been executed so well "that the debriefing was rather boring."
Sources within the opposition Labor Party hinted that the timing of the strike might have been connected with coming parliamentary elections on June 30. But these charges are not being aired publicly lest the government label them unpatriotic.